BRAVO vs. MTV: Reality War Games. Winners, Losers & Scamtrepreneurs

MTV’s The Real World is one of the currently longest running successful reality franchises. According to a report in 2007 in USA Today,  former MTV chief Brian Graden thinks revolution when describing Real World as “quite simply the undisputed granddaddy of modern, commercial reality television.”  According to that same report, he sees its DNA in later MTV series, including Jackass, The OsbournesLaguna Beach and The Hills.  MTV’s “The Real World” franchise evolved while building around the original formula of placing in the same house under one roof an eclectic array of personalities that would likely never run into one another in the real world and documenting how they interact with each other over time. MTV expanded on that success with the launch, during the Holiday Season of 2009 flowing into early 2010, of the controversial Jersey Shore which explores,  highlights or celebrates what has been referred to by a local academic as “Guido subculture” on the Jersey Shore (See also: NJ Guido).

Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise, which commenced with The Real Housewives of Orange County seems to have tried to duplicate MTV’s Real World formula while targeting an older demographic of adult viewers. Bravo TV’s original The Real Housewives of Orange County spawned successful franchise versions of the show in Atlanta, New York, New Jersey and Chicago to date with others in places like Washington, DC rumored to be in the works. Yet along comes MTV once again with programming like Jersey Shore which has actually had cross over appeal to different demographic groups, despite the show being about a rather narrow demographic and the “Guido subculture” on the New Jersey Shore.  The Bravo juggernaut has made reality celebrities of many of the women from the show, a number of whom have crossed over into the pop cultural lexicon, and can often be seen walking Red Carpet at events from New York to Hollywood, while developing both an older and younger following. In trading on their new found celebrity some have written books, cut records or become spokes person’s for a range of products. Yet as much as they work it, hire publicists and the like, arguably none of them have become as well known as the characters on Jersey Shore have so quickly. Jennifer Farley, “JWoww”, has already launched her own line while Guil Weizman, not a cast member, has seen an increased demand for his Rush Couture T-Shirts which were worn by the cast members on the show.

Bravo TV has tried to replicate the success of The Real Housewives of Orange County with mixed reviews. The success of the original franchise seems to have to do with the fact that they casted largely believable persona’s who seem to embody the lifestyle and values of Orange County. The success of The Real Housewives of Atlanta mostly seems to do with the WWF like flavor of the show where one never knows when a cat fight may erupt while The Real Housewives of New Jersey had not so subtle mob like undertones.  The success of Bravo’s programming has even led to Andy Cohen, SVP of Original Programming and Development at Bravo to jump out in front of the camera to host “Watch What Happens Live” where he often interviews cast members from Bravo’s reality productions, and in effect helps extend the 15 Minutes of many of these car wrecks. While the franchise initial success traded on the “reality” of the lives of these individuals, the New York franchise has become one of the more scripted, the players the most insincere if not incredulous and unbelievable caricatures of New Yorkers. Thus, in a critical market like New York, the franchise is arguably on death legs.  Perhaps the reason is because more than 50% of the cast are not genuine New Yorkers or even housewives for that matter, but are simply rather grossly over publicized women who have been working the social scene in New York for years to promote their rather vacuous and insincere persona’s for the greater good of their financial betterment. In a more revolutionary time, like the present, these women barely pass for meaningless distraction with the audiences having a relative disconnect with their fabricated personas.

“The Real Housewives of New York City”—until this year, the only ”Real” Housewives who also had a legitimate and sustaining connection to New York City and who were actually married housewives were JILL ZARIN and ALEX MCCORD and I guess Kelly Bensimon but she has been living in her own private idaho for so long, it is hard to tell what planet she is from, perhaps “Planet Hot”—at least according to the report that she will be spread out on display in the March edition of Playboy Magazine.  With the possible exception of Jill Zarin and Alex McCord the women on the show are a completely bogus representation of New York women or New York Housewives—yes I am referring to the curious case of Bethenny Frankel (often single until now) and Countess Luann de Lesseps (who’s marriage was an apparent arrangement) and who are not representative New Yorkers or housewives. The marketing of these “empty suits” cannot hide that fact. You will excuse me if I completely discount Ramona “Crazy Eyes” Singer whose celebrity and persona just remind me of Charles Lee Ray, AKA Chucky from Child’s Play, proof that every reality show just needs one emotionally unstable crazy nut-job.

Bethenny Frankel’s L.A. Girl persona, her quickie marriage to what looks like Richard Simmons little brother and her branding of Skinny Girl Cocktails, an apparent direct rip off of the Skinny Bitch Diet Book series has been ridiculed enough for exposing herself at book parties and marrying what appears to be her answer to Star Jones’s Al Reynolds.  When she appears on The Millionaire Matchmaker looking for a “real” husband you will know her career has come full circle. Hence I do not need to spend any more time doing it here. So instead, let’s focus on the Countess LuAnn de Lesseps. This woman who fancies herself as an expert on etiquette penned a book on manners called “Class with Countess”.  The persona crafted by Ms. de Lesseps and her handlers is like Emily Post meets Bernie Madoff. Personally, I would rather take etiquette lessons from Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from the Jersey Shore than a fake Countess who is neither “real”, a “housewife” or from New York City but who fancies herself as a modern day Emily Post.  As if that were not unbelievable enough, we learned this week that she will now be releasing a dance single where she sings about those with money who lack manners—something that she obviously is familiar with. One can only wonder whether she will sing it looking in the mirror.  While I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade or breakdown a playa’s game, Luann’s hustle is so utterly ridiculous.

COUNT CHOCULA & FRANKENBERRY

Truth is that if you need a fake Countess to teach you etiquette or give you tips on manners or class you probably wish you could still get in on those “Amazing” Investment Opportunities formerly offered by Bernie Madoff. You would be better off getting tips from  The Barefoot Contessa who can at least teach you how to shop, prepare and serve a wonderful meal. On the other hand, if there is a massive discount in effect on Amazon and you are running low on toilet paper you might want to “wipe your ass” with the Countess’ literary work.

Let’s review the facts of this woman’s life. When you marry a guy for his title (”Count”) so you can call yourself a ”Countess” for who knows what reasons, yet that Count spends most of his time thousands of miles away from his so called Countess in the arms of whomever doing who knows what and then ultimately dials in his disposal of said Countess via email or text or a story in the news, it should be clear to anyone that her marriage was nothing but a SHAM, especially when your main concern seems to be whether you can still keep the title.   Perhaps the Count’s inheritance required him to “marry” a woman while he lived a more deviant lifestyle on the side. One can only wonder whether the Nubian Princess was the first.  So, if  you are not going to drop the act, perhaps as some suggest you should just drop the “O” (in Countess).   Ms. Luann de Lesseps and her handlers have even expended a tremendous amount of effort extending or stretching the truth about Count Alexandre de Lesseps Aristocratic legacy:

As for Count Alexandre Count de Lesseps, he was born into a French aristocracy. His great-great-great grandfather is Ferdinand de Lesseps. Great de Lesseps built the Suez Canal and started the Panama Canal. He was also present during the presentation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

Regardless, this hardly makes Ms. Lesseps one to educate the masses about manners, class or style. Her life while it has certainly kept her living well relative to most citizens is not that different than that of a Sugar Daddy and his Sugar Baby and all those relationships ultimately come to an end.  In Hollywood the Fake & Plastic People do not pretend to be anything more than fake and plastic while in NYC they insist that you refer to them by titles such as Countess LuMann de Lesseps as if that makes them more significant than just being some American Indian chic who was a Nurse on an Indian Reservation in Connecticut who married a man, for his title, Hamptons house and money,  who spends no time with her who’s affinity for Ethiopian women over his Countess should have led to his title being changed to Count Chocula and his former “wife” simply being referred to simply as Frankenberry.

The JEWESS vs. The COUNTLess

You contrast Luann’s fake persona with that of “THE” Real Housewife from New York, the Long Island girl with the shana punim and the shapely tuchis (courtesy of liposuction?),  Jill Zarin who penned a book appropriately called “Secrets of a Jewish Mother” which is scheduled for release in April 2010 and you can instantly see that at least Ms. Zarin, who is quintessentially New York, has stuck with that of which she knows and she embodies. Having observed, been in the company of Ms. Zarin, her husband and photographed and spoken to them at many private events in New York City and the Hamptons over nearly a decade, the persona she and her husband represent on the show is comparable to her real life.  This is a couple who is genuinely in love, who enjoy each others company and who often can be seen engaged in PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection) even when the camera is not on them.  As  a couple who work together and mutually share in each other’s success,  to watch the mensch Bobby Zarin in the company of his Princess Jill, you can see that which you see in the every man who worked hard, achieved a degree of success and married the woman/princess of his dreams. He spends every day of his life relishing that dream, eternally grateful for sure, while still working hard to maintain the fortress which is his life and supporting his family. In short they remind you of why you should get married even if you do not want to engage in the same fame dance as the Zarin’s have. You see the two of them and can only say “Mazel Tov” even if at times I have found myself not always understanding every aspect of their courtship of  fame and why they are attempting to market anything other than the family business, Zarin Fabrics.

JERSEY SHORE: The Denigration of our Culture?

TRUTH is that the denigration of our culture has been going on long before “REALITY TV”.  A further truth is that what is called “Reality TV” in most cases is hardly truly “reality” anymore. Much of the drama is scripted, set up intentionally or somewhat unintentionally by putting combustible personalities in situations which lead to combustion.  MTV Executives were able to paint a caricature of Guido subculture on the Jersey Shore in a manner which does push the envelope offending some Italians,  Italian anti-defamation groups, including The National Italian American Foundation (”NIAF”) and UNICO, who have argued that MTV and its parent company Viacom are “profiting off ethnic stereotypes and derogatory myths of Italian Americans”. The critics are correct that there is somewhat of a double standard, in that for example MTV could not likely have gotten away with this had they say poked fun a “Gaudy” materialistic gold digging JAPS in the Hamptons.  You would have the ADL up MTV’s tuchis were they to do that and poke fun at select members of the Jewish community in the same way that our society permits denigration of Italians or Christian institutions for that matter like the Catholic Church.   The characters on the show, however, do not profess to represent anyone other than themselves and the production credits evidence heavy Italian American involvement. Furthermore, according to a local Professor Donald Triacarico, a sociologist and ethnographer at Queensboro Community College the embrace of Guido subculture is a sign of ethnic pride, even if many more traditional and conservative Italians feel that the slang term “Guido”   is just another term for Ginny or Wop used to denigrate Italians.   Perhaps, in a bad economy, since people need to eat, they will do so whatever they can, even if it means trading off of cultural caricatures for profit.

REALITY TV:  A Slave Trade?

The whole formula of Reality TV is to EXPLOIT the TALENT that make these shows so that they do not have to pay SAG rates which increases the bottom line. Reality TV in the end is a SLAVE TRADE.  Make the monkey dance until he is no longer useful to you and then get a new cheaper monkey who is just happy to be a monkey.  Capische?  So one should not be surprised if the monkeys do all that they can to cash in on their notoriety.  Rumors are circulating that the cast members from Jersey Shore are thinking about uniting to get $10,000 per person per episode, which is nothing compared to what the salaries paid to  Bravo Stars, including the $100,00o per episode paid to each Real Housewife from New Jersey.   MTV should make sure that these kids get PAID, even though it seems like MTV is playing hardball and perhaps this a better sign of what MTV and Viacom really thinks of Italian Americans. You can make them dance like monkeys in a Jersey Shore share house but then you do not want to pay them?   $10,000 per episode is “chump change” compared to all of the money that MTV and its sponsors make off this show. Surely, MTV could go out and get a new cast of characters as well to try to repeat the success of this past year and perhaps even eclipse it, and that would be consistent with the formula of Reality TV. Food For Thought: Italian Americans are some of the most patriotic Americans. Perhaps if you got American companies to sponsor the show, companies like say GM, every cast member could be given their own Cadillac SUV among other things and it would be good for everyone involved, except perhaps “The Situation” who seems to like his Range Rover.

Tell you what, if the Jersey Shore cast is re-assembled in Seaside Heights, I might just make a foray to the Jersey Shore for a few weekends next year to check on “The Situation”

SNOOKI PUNCH: Queens Gym Teacher Reveal’s his inner Chris Brown and should step into the ring (along with Chris Brown) and take on a Real Man.

Brad Ferro, the Queens gym teacher who infamously sucker-punched in the face Jersey Shore star Nicole Polizzi (a.k.a. “Snooki”) revealing his inner Chris Brown, merely exposed this guy’s inner sissy, girlie man loser that he is. The fact that a guy regardless of how drunk he is, first reaction to a tiny little girl that is annoying him (because of his own rudeness), is to wind up and cold cock a petite girl in the face merely illustrates that deep down this guy is a COWARD who ought to step into the ring with a REAL MAN and take a beating for charity. I will reiterate my challenge to the cowardly Chris Brown who handed out a beating to Rihanna who could not even defend herself with an umbrella, ella ella hey hey.  So I hereby reiterate that challenge to Chris Brown who shouldn’t “Run it”, only he can bring along another girlie boy in Brad Ferro to back him up in a tag team match against the author of this blog.  The two of them can step into the ring simultaneously, in tag team fashion, to take on the author of this blog with the proceeds going to the victims of Domestic Violence.

SHAKE-UP THE BRAVO FRANCHISE

New York City needs a genuine franchise player. The Yankees went out and got Alex Rodriguez, the JETS plucked Mark Sanchez from USC in Southern California. I see we bring another franchise player back east. My advice is that Bravo Trade the Classless Countless de Lesseps & the other faux New Yorkers to Orange County for Tamra Barney and a player to be named later.  Tamra straight up for the Countless is too much and it seems to me Alexis Bellino is not going anywhere. Tamra belongs in Manhattan.

THE GREAT ENIGMATIC COMPROMISE AT THE WTC SITE

Since the destruction of the World Trade Center in the attacks of September 11, 2001, here in New York City we have rebuilt two stadiums for our local baseball teams,  Citi Field for the New York Mets and a new Yankee Stadium, added a staircase of questionable import in Times Square and rebuilt The Highline.  During this same time, many urban gentrification projects have been launched and taken to completion all over this city, the Twin Towers II plan has been virtually ignored by higher powers.  Some local leaders even floated the idea of a New York Jets Stadium on the west side of Manhattan.  Ironically enough, even The Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, which was the first major building to be completed in Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, although it was already under construction in 2001, bears an uncanny resemblance to the fallen Twin Towers.   If nothing else it serves as a continuing reminder of the hole in New York’s skyline, the proverbial soul of our beloved metropolis or as it has been called the “Ground Zero of National Paralysis.” Yet, here we are 8 1/2 years later and every time I walk or drive by Battery Park City, it looks nearly the same as it did when I lived there 7-8 years ago—-a construction site. This breaks my heart almost as much as  the tragedy which occurred there on September 11, 2001.

Monument to Cowardice?

While persuasive arguments exist to modernize and remake the downtown financial district to suit the needs of a city looking forward to the next century rather  than those of the prior one,  the symbolism of making the skyline less of what it once was is not lost on many citizens of America and the World.  Did we not repair the Pentagon to its original form, prior to the attacks? It is also not lost on me that their may be insufficient corporate demand to fill the World Trade Center were it to be re-built much in the same way again.  Nevertheless, the tragedy has provided New York City with an opportunity to re-craft downtown for the next century.  The dilemma of how far we should  go in our dreams to rebuild bigger, better and stronger is only eclipsed by how little rebuilding we have done since 9/11 and how compromised is the existing plan of Studio Daniel Libeskind and his high profile collaborators, relative to the passion of architect Minoru Yamasaki which inspired their construction in the first place. Rebuilding efforts have been repeatedly stalled after legal fights with insurers, clashes over design and security and a failure to attract tenants. Under existing plans a glass skyscraper, formerly known as the “Freedom Tower” (which was appropriately labeled by journalist Nicole Gelinas as “a half-hollowed monument to cowardice”) but renamed One World Trade Center last year, will be the tallest building in the United States, at the symbolic height of 1776 feet, and the centerpiece of the new World Trade Center site. The site will also include a National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Work on the formerly named Freedom Tower officially began in late 2006 and is now scheduled to be completed sometime in 2013.

Rebuilding Ground Zero

This past week we learned that Oscar winning film director Steven Spielberg will make a TV documentary on the rebuilding of New York’s World Trade Center.   The Science Channel reported that Spielberg would executive produce the six-part documentary series “Rebuilding Ground Zero”, due to be shown in 2011.   Along with Project Rebirth this proves once again that so many projects can be taken to completion, even movies about the rebirth before an actual rebirth.

Twin Towers Alliance

The Twin Towers Alliance remains the conscience of a city, a country and the silent majority of American Citizens who do not embrace the project underway at the site of the former World Trade Center, but who individually lack a voice or have moved on to issues that they can affect in their own lives, having accepted almost that their leaders are no longer listening to them.  This is not a liberal or conservative issue, or even a Democratic or Republican one, or for that matter even an American one, there is a Worldwide Coalition to Rebuild the Twin Towers. You can even join their Facebook page,  contact the media or become part of the One Million Strong for new Twin Towers.  According to the founders of the Twin Towers Alliance, the current plan does not pass the smell test:

It certainly is curious that men like Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Silverstein, who know that terrorist targets in Israel are always quickly rehabilitated back to their pre-target state — as the best relief for the victims and the best demoralizer for the victimizers — would work to deprive their country of the same relief. Why the double standard? Why are they going along with towers and a memorial that do just the opposite, making the physical proof of the attacks permanent and giving our enemies the most gigantic terrorist trophy the world has ever seen? ? It doesn’t compute — it boggles the mind. Why would they be so hostile to the natural desire of their own countrymen for that same simple standard, knowing what an effective deterrent it is in Israel against the same enemy? Especially when the possibility of restoring the skyline to its world-famous profile is so much more popular, economical, buildable, and ultimately rewarding for all concerned? Why would they seek to marginalize and defame those who object? Whose side are they on anyway?

While I mostly find myself in agreement with much of what the Twin Towers Alliance position, where I take exception is that I think Mike Bloomberg and his team have done a rather remarkable job to advance  the interests of New York City in some of the most trying times.  This is especially true when you consider the fundamental shift in the global economy and the modern economic reality in America, the challenge or threat to American supremacy.  Consider further the challenges posed by a shrinking financial sector in lower Manhattan, including soaring vacancy rates, which very much impact the kind of facilities which make sense to build downtown at this stage of New York history.  In short, it is hard not to appreciate the passion and intent of the folks at the Twin Towers Alliance while being sympathetic to the economic and political realities being dealt with by our business and political leaders.  Hesitance and caution are a natural reaction, but not necessarily the right reaction.

A Modern Utopia: Once the Vision of Andrew Cuomo

The will of the people may call for new Twin Towers.  Demand in the business community for commercial space of that magnitude may not currently exist.   On the other hand, perhaps the vacancy rate exists downtown because the alternatives that exist for the type of Manhattan we are attempting to craft do not exist or are not modern enough to attract the kind of tenants that would consider relocating to Lower Manhattan.  And I am not just talking about creating just more square footage at a cheaper price which would create a downtown vs. midtown chess game between a few of the largest landowners in the city.  What I am instead talking about is a modern if not futuristic Urban Enterprise Zone that is designed to lure business from other parts of the country and the world because The World Trade Center is not just a name but in essence an “Olympic Village of Commerce” where the best and brightest must come to be in proximity of the greatest minds in Capitalism in the free world.  Simply put, there has always been a certain romance with Downtown (consider the opening credits for the movie Wall Street) and that romance must be recreated to lure new generations back. If you don’t get it, then you probably  think that the World Trade Center was just a couple of skyscrapers.

New Yorkers should be looking for and turning to someone with the creativity of Andrew Cuomo, the current Attorney General, who was a gubernatorial candidate back in 2002 who saw the opportunity to build a new utopia rather than just a few pleasant high rises, a memorial or a cemetery. According to the Gotham Gazette:

Although Andrew Cuomo ultimately dropped out of the race, his rebuilding plans were some of the most creative of any of the major candidates. He saw the rebuilt downtown area as a sort of high-tech capitalist utopia: New York City cultural landmarks, a relocated World Bank, an integrated transportation system, a developed waterfront with a harbor economy, and a newly commissioned World Institute of Health, doing valuable research while also creating a biotechnology economy.

If the corporate demand does not exist for every square foot of space in the Twin Towers right now, perhaps as a forward thinking Urban Enterprise Zone we can remake New York City for the 21st Century and beyond. In so doing we must be prepared to look at things not in such a microeconomic manner in terms of what may be filled up next week, next month or even next year. The question is not whether New York City can afford to do this and make the investment now but whether New York City can afford to cede ground to other centers of trade and commerce, such as Kuala Lampur in Malaysia (see the Petronas Towers), Dubai or Hong Kong. If we do not then the name World Trade Center will end up signifying not just a dream unfulfilled but a reality we were unwilling to invest in its creation and thus ultimately meaningless.  Make no mistake that a series of high rises and monument to the deceased will only serve to remind that this is no longer The World Trade Center, but that it once was and it, New York and America will RIP.

EPILOGUE: It should be noted that the folks at Twin Towers Alliance are absolutely correct. This blog left out a key point, that Twin Towers II calls for very much the same kind of  mixed use facility, similar to one of the signature properties in midtown west at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, which ironically also has Twin Towers.   I find it hard to believe that there will be insufficient demand for personal or corporate homes in a truly rebuilt World Trade Center with views from the Windows at the Top of the World.  And it should be noted that Twin Towers Alliance while giving Mayor Bloomberg his due for his governance during troubled times, believe that his governance will ultimately be judged as a net gain or net loss, depending on what happens in Lower Manhattan. Here we are in 2010, with the opportunity still to correct what is wrong at the World Trade Center site. During the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11th and all the pandemonium and political posturing and grandstanding by political leaders like then Governor George Pataki who promised a vocal minority of victims families that there would be no building on the footprints at Ground Zero and still others who lobbied for no building at all on Ground Zero, we can recognize and reflect on the folly or lack of wisdom and perspective in those promises and  the power plays behind the flawed process, especially since those who attempted to control the debate had no background in urban planning and bare some responsibility for the rest of the world passing us by.  The future or the fate of America and its signature metropolis should not be beholden to those promises offered in the heat of passion, political passion that is, by leaders with a compromised vision to a somewhat misguided but vocal minority, especially when no significant evidence exists that a majority of the families ever wanted or insisted that New York essentially build a cemetery downtown.  This is New York City and “NOT” Iken Pataki Town.  Furthermore, it is wise to consider that we do not remake our entire society based upon the voices of a few, with all due respect, but rather our society shall advance forward to the benefit the majority of our citizens and our culture as a whole by cool, calm and strategic reflection about what is necessary to advance us as a people. Will we be happy when for years folks come to visit the World Trade Center as a “Disneyland of Death” rather than for it being the center of commerce, commercial enterprise and capitalism itself? It’s really a rather simple question.